Michael Macrone
Articles & Essays

Copyright © 1987 by Michael Macrone.

Disinformation, Please!

Systems, Networks, Simulations, Bleak House, Gary Hart, Iran-Contra, and Gravity’s Rainbow

[M]anipulation is a floating causality where positivity and negativity engender and overlap with one another, where there is no longer any active or passive. — Jean Baudrillard

I meene, he speke wole of smale thynges,
As for to pynchen at thy rekenynges,
That were nat honest, if it cam to preef.
— Hoost, Prologe of the Maunciples Tale

More than a few readers have found Gravity’s Rainbow[1] uniquely unreadable. But what makes it less manageable, or more frustrating, than other long, labyrinthine novels—for example Charles Dickens’ Bleak House? In both Bleak House and Gravity’s Rainbow, plots and “themes” multiply in a seemingly uncontrolled, even grotesque, fashion over spaces of immense dilation. Yet in both novels, plot and theme ultimately cross back on themselves to indicate some narrative shape. Characters and details (information) are patterned in networks that knot or intersect, even if they do so at rarified moments dispersed over spaces inevitably larger than one (or more) sittings’ worth of text.

But in Bleak House, even as dilation pushes suspense to the limit of numbness, Dickens is careful to recollect and rehearse detail whenever we are in danger of total disengagement; he times gratifying revelations and solutions to keep us in the cycle.[2] Pynchon, on the other hand, teases in a more malicious way, strewing half-solutions or irrelevant revelations in a voice that refuses to stabilize around any real “truth-effect.” When Pynchon rehearses a plot, he is likely to undo it. Our memory of the text is consequently feeble, and our sense of its timing precarious at best.

In Gravity’s Rainbow, as in Dickens’ works, there are tremendously intricate connections among the personnel of the novel—but here the more significant connections are among corporations, materials and machines rather than individuals. Worse, while the main action of Gravity’s Rainbow may occupy less than one year, the narrative wanders across centuries, and its principle agents are shadowy mechanisms and structures that outlive, and outreach, generations. Dickens does have his version of Pynchon’s “Firm,” a fog-like, infinitely permeating and seemingly conspiratorial network: Chancery. And while it is true that the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit is as uncontainable as Pynchon’s “conspiracy,” it is a conspiracy of dunces, and its functioning is inextricable from the intrigue of an at least finite group of characters who are more or less already related. The suit may never conclude, never be acceptably interpreted, but it does collapse under its own weight, showing itself subject, in the end, to a larger economic structure. Jarndyce and Jarndyce furthermore allows resistance; it allows others to judge it and, if not really escape it, to effectively distance themselves from its proceedings and its control. Dickens ratifies, in the figures of Esther, Ada and John Jarndyce, a comfortably domestic position, as is demonstrated in Esther’s ultimate personal and moral rewards, which are opposed to Roger’s ultimate capture and destruction by the suit.

The Dickens novel, like most suspense novels, rewards paranoia: the more we interpret narrative detail, the more we incorporate the plot, the more we are (narcissistically) gratified when all our best fears come true. Of course, Gravity’s Rainbow confirms paranoia, but never rewards it with any moral, material, or psychological payoff. Paranoia proves justified—or seems to, as even that justice is (if jokingly) undercut and retracted. (The problem is telling the jokes from the truths.)

Nothing in Gravity’s Rainbow adds up—until it adds up to too much. None of the connections are firmly and unequivocally established, nor do they provide a retrospective rationale or pattern for the paths and destinies of the characters and their emotional investments. The connections, then, are never indexed back to any subjectivity, never firmly establish a cause (motivation) of a subject’s paths or desires—even and especially Slothrop’s. We may have our suspicions as to the object(s) of Slothrop’s quest, and as to the motivations and stimuli which govern his voluntary and involuntary behavior—we are obviously encouraged to have them. Yet such suspicions are regularly undone by the peculiar and profuse overdetermination of any “plotted” event.

The phenomenological texture of Gravity’s Rainbow relies on stimuli of its own: hermeneutic set-ups which evoke readerly desires, and then (often cruelly) mislead or abandon them. Because the unveiling or resolution of the text’s mysteries is ultimately refused (or rather, never bothered with), they announce themselves as narrative stimuli. Other novels naturalize and consume these affective techniques within ultimately satisfying connections, truths, and moralizations. In Gravity’s Rainbow these stimuli evoke desires ultimately in order to obtain a thematic referent in the novel’s affective double, the reader reading. However, one’s paranoia is more—or less—than a theme: it is in fact a desire for information which hypersensitizes him or her to the point where no joke or digression can be taken for granted. Again, the traditional rhythms of suspense/satisfaction, which allow for a reassuring sense of when a passage “really counts,” are demolished.

This is so not only because there is no manageable number of narrative voices—as there is (two) in Bleak House—and because the voice of authority refuses to stabilize. It is so also because there is no acceptable “reader representative”—no real character to identify with—whose experience might indicate (like Esther’s) the path to a proper evaluative stance. It goes without saying that Pynchon has given over in Gravity’s Rainbow—as he had already done in a more limited way in V.—characterization à la the novel of interiority (i.e., the novel since Richardson). Even the half-dozen or so (out of over 400) proper names in the book which are attached to any individuated pseudo-psyche are never accorded a stable or developed relationship to the surrounding narrative. This is true both because their point of view and speech style are dispersed throughout the narrative, to places remote from their bodies, and because the notion of independent and epistemologically available subjectivity is deeply revoked on the thematic and narrative levels.

If it seems that in general characters in Gravity’s Rainbow are obviously little more than narrativity machines or “functions,” what does this do to the concept of narrative itself? I would like to propose, and develop briefly in the next section, that one effect of the book is to vacate the notion of narrative as representation. That is, while fiction generally plays with, and often thematizes, its status as mimetic simulation of the real rather than as its direct representation, Gravity’s Rainbow pushes one step further in suggesting that certain structures of narrativity evacuate the entire concept of a prior and independent “real.”

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While Gravity’s Rainbow advances a broad historical argument concerning Western-culture-as-disease—as a transpersonal death-drive—it is also clear that there is something especially threatening about relatively recent conditions and structures and their ascendancy over Pynchon’s pseudo-characters. This threat is more than technological, though it has quite a bit to do with certain kinds of machines. There’s something more in the air than a rocket to realize the Western apocalypse.

I should like to approach this development, these machines, through two presently newsworthy events. The first involves former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose problem-ridden campaign was finally undone by a damaging report in the Miami Herald of an alleged adultery. The amazing thing about the event is not the new kinds of facts which are of interest in evaluating candidates for public office, but the particular nature and arrival of those facts. The following excerpt is from an article by Robin Toner in the New York Times of 6 May 1987:

[T]he publisher of the Miami Herald, Richard G. Capen, said, “We stand by the essential correctness of our story.” While it was possible that someone could have left Mr. Hart’s house through a rear entrance, Mr. Capen said, “clearly, at a minimum, there was an appearance of impropriety” in Mr. Hart’s activities. [Italics mine.]

What constituted, for Capen, “essential correctness” had nothing to do with demonstrable truth: the reality of the event boils down to “an appearance of impropriety.” The comings and goings of Mr. Hart’s personal acquaintances are no longer events that stand alone, but that are always, in potentia or “in reality,” events for the media, for the reporting eye. (Hart knew this very well when he challenged the press to prove his womanizing; it is even possible he staged the whole disastrous affair specially for the occasion.) More to the point, Gary Hart’s “character” is not a reality that exists prior to its translation into journalistic “information,” but rather a construct of that information. Hart’s campaign was not destroyed by any real liaison—however much its possibility, even probability, conditioned the journalistic representation and its real effects. His campaign was destroyed because of bad staging.

Another example: the whole “Iran-Contra” affair is a quite remarkable Pynchonesque Paranoid Structure come to life. This is so not just because of the incredible complexity and seeming ubiquity of the scandal, its acronymic firms and laundering accounts, its incredible and massive structure of domestic intrigue and military-industrial sweetheart deals. The scandal furthermore replicates the entire paranoid structure in which information is so bound up in distorted, concealed, “lost,” or shredded messages that private paranoid scenarios can proceed virtually without check.

Again, there has been a supersession of mere fact in the scandal—although, again, the facts of the operation are of a certain shadowy significance in its media representation. But what has become the crucial reality to be determined is a matter of information: What did the president know, and when did he know it? Was the president informed of the transfer of funds? What messages were sent, through what channels? Again and again, these questions emerge on the bottom line, for the joint congressional investigative committee, even for the American people—but they are not of interest independent from a network of media representation. Is everyone really interested in knowledge (the stories are full of denials of “knowledge of Swiss bank accounts,” or “knowledge of TOW shipments”; how are such things known, anyway?), or does such a thing come about because of a system of narrating politico-military activities?

Could we say that the media cause such phenomena, cause interest in who knows what, who reports what, who exhibits bad judgment? This is analogous to the question, much asked, of whether media coverage “causes” terrorism, or “causes” a skewing in election results. I don’t believe that such questions really address the kinds of phenomena produced in the age of the information market, information networks—new epistemological modes which coincide with an entirely different system of truth and reality. In this age, disinformation is as good as the real thing.

Jean Baudrillard describes, in “The Precession of Simulacra,”[3] the destruction of the “real” as a freestanding or independent regime in the information age of simulation. He claims that representations—primarily media representations—have themselves achieved the status of models which reproduce both themselves and the fiction of some “real” that would escape them. He describes a “diffus[ion] and diffract[ion]” of the “medium” in the “real” (p. 54), not only to the point where the difference between the two disappears, but to the point where most other comfortable oppositions dissolve:

[W]e must think of the media as if they were, in outer orbit, a sort of genetic code which controls the mutation of the real into the hyperreal ….

The whole traditional mode of causality is brought into question: the perspective, deterministic mode, the “active,” critical mode, the analytical mode—the distinction between cause and effect, between active and passive, between subject and object, between ends and means. It is in this mode that it can be said: TV watches us, TV alienates us, TV manipulates us, TV informs us …. (pp. 55-6)

Whatever are the ultimate political implications of Baudrillard’s notion of deterrence strategies (whereby “real” use and any “real” signified are preempted by simulation)—which become disturbingly valorized in later writings—his description of simulation and its effects is, I think, applicable here. We might say, then, neither that terrorism causes its media exposure, nor that the media networks cause terrorism (or “bad judgment”): they just inscribe each other, model each other, double each other. Terrorism doubles headlines, headlines double terrorism. The concept of cause as such (as temporal and unidirectional) can no longer be translated into the “truth” of phenomena.

What Baudrillard calls the “hyperreal” is something like Gerhardt von Göll’s “paracinematic”: “It is my mission,” von Göll announces, “to sow in the Zone seeds of reality” (p. 451). But that “reality” is a simulation, however “real” the Schwarzkommando he thinks he’s caused may be. The phantasms of Operation Black Wing and the Schwarzkommando themselves are both merely activations of a more pervasive fantasy. Enzian, as we know, is an epiphenomenon of the German military-industrial colonizing machine, which is hardly distinguishable from the British version. Von Göll is the agent of both; and in fact, he reproduces (or reactivates) in the deterritorialized zone the networks of marketing and distribution to which his black market is ostensibly an alternative. “The true war,” the narrator informs us, “is a celebration of markets. Organic markets, carefully styled ‘black’ by the professionals, spring up [thus ‘der Springer’?] everywhere” (p. 122).

But just as the Allied powers are wasting no time reinscribing boundaries and reproducing markets in the Zone, von Göll is selling another fantasy to Squalidozzi: “I can take down your fences and your labyrinth walls, I can lead you back to the Garden you hardly remember” (p. 451). With the Zone as backdrop, von Göll promises a paracinematic simulation of a prelapsarian territory, uncolonized, traversed by no markets, agitated by no death-drives. This is akin to the nostalgic fantasy the Zone represents for Slothrop:

It seems to Tyrone Slothrop that there might be a route back—maybe that anarchist he met in Zürich was right, maybe for a little while all the fences are down, on road as good as another, the whole space of the Zone cleared, depolarized, and somewhere inside the waste of it a single set of coordinates from which to proceed, without elect, without preterite, without even nationality to fuck it up. … Such are the vistas of thought that open up in Slothrop’s head as he tags along after Ludwig. Is he drifting, or being led? (p. 648)

Slothrop doesn’t realize that he can’t have his depolarization and his coordinates too. His state of freefall at this point in the quest depends on his escape from the Firm’s coordinate system and its feedback-surveillance guidance control. Of course, he ends up “being led” by Ludwig, von Göll, Bummer and anyone else who comes along with a new identity for him and a new quest to pursue. The quests are simply no longer his “own”—but his own were already inscribed by the system. Like Tchitcherine, he’s in a “Rocket-state whose borders he cannot cross” (p. 660). The coordinate system has its origin point, its “zero,” at the 00000.

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Let me backtrack a bit. Pursuing the quest for the secrets of his subjectivity in the guise of Ian Scuffling, Slothrop connects up in Zürich with “local Waxwing rep” Semyavin. Slothrop is networking for information, which disgusts the Russian: “Information. … Is it any wonder the world’s gone insane, with information come to be the only real medium of exchange?” (p. 300). Semyavin has a point there, except that his notion of sanity no longer pertains in this market. But why does he call information the “medium” of exchange, rather than a commodity? Surely, he’s confusing signs with signifying networks.

But after all, there is a sort of supply-and-demand doubling, or interface, between the two regimes; the market (or medium) conditions production (of discrete information), and vice versa. It becomes difficult to make a clean distinction. For example, an information system which is binary in its organization demands binary information, just as binary information presumes appropriate binary channels for its dissemination. Behaviorism, as depicted in the novel, runs (on) such a system. The narrator tells us that Pointsman “imagines the cortex of the brain as a mosaic of tiny on/off elements. … [E]ach point is allowed only the two states: waking or sleep. One or zero” (p. 64). This concept of the medium is interdependent with the concept of stimulus/response messages which flash over the network, lighting up a ground structure ready to receive them; the stimulus-message both acts on the cortex-mosaic and is sustained by it. No real priority is determinable. It is such a binary concept of the stimulus/response medium that renders hardons as information; a hardon is “either there, or it isn’t. Binary. elegant” (p. 97).

But the stimulus and its conditions simulate the response, just as stimulus and response simulate the conditions and system of operation. The information simulates, or doubles, the system and vice versa, just as Slothrop simulates the V-2 and vice versa. Clearly, the question of whether erections cause rocket-falls or rocket-falls erections is one abandoned by the text; it is posed more as a pretext (stimulus) for certain reading strategies upon which the novel acts. (In this sense, the novel depends on reading strategies, and reading strategies on the novel; causality and the active/passive opposition drop out.) This question doubles a simpler and more general one the novel poses: Is the rocket phallic or the Western penis rocketlike? The narrative not only ridicules both options (ones it presented in the first place)—it destroys the difference.

But is to recognize this to join with Mexico in judging cause/effect stimulus/response binarism a bankrupt concept, even granting its restricted regime? The novel hedges. Its dearest binary opposition is of course the “We”/”They” system; erecting a “We-system,” as the narrative does over and over, is to grant the effective reality of a classically Lacanian “imaginary” and binary organization of reality. At least, all the major good guys, except Slothrop of course, end up in the Counterforce, which is the only alternative structure available in the paranoid binary world of the narrative. The narrative may at times sneer at binarism, but its plot relies on it, just as paranoia (its main theme) does.

Pirate Prentice outlines for Mexico the “We” alternative:

“[The ‘They-system’ is] what they and their hired psychiatrists call ‘delusional systems.’ Needless to say, ‘delusions’ are always officially defined. We don’t have to worry about questions of real or unreal. They only talk out of expediency. It’s the system that matters. How the data arrange themselves inside it. Some are consistent, others fall apart. Your idea that Pointsman sent Gloaming[4] takes a wrong fork. Without any contrary set of delusions—delusions about ourselves, which I’m calling a We-system—the Gloaming idea might have been all right —” (p. 743)

Prentice claims that it’s the system that matters, that it exists and functions independent of specific arrangements of data, verbal statements or representations. The Counterforce conceives of itself not as a different system, just a supposedly alternative “set of delusions” within the same system. The “We-system” doubles the “They-system”; it only hopes to colonize a different region of that system. But at the same time that Prentice asserts the priority of the system over its data, he asserts the independence of the data: Gloaming’s odd behavior, “back from a jaunt in the zone” (734) is represented as a free-floating datum that could indeed have had some currency in Mexico’s “They”-delusion. What Prentice is setting up is actually a new system of interpreting cause: because there’s a “We-system,” Gloaming’s appearance was “caused” by the Counterforce, not by Pointsman.

Mexico weakly protests: “Well, you’re playing their game, then” (p. 744). The binary “We/They” alternative, he correctly points out, is an illusory alternative to their binaristic/paranoid system of interpretation. The Counterforce is ultimately doomed to fizzle out as just some data that “fell apart,” a fact which ratifies the system in a number of ways. But in fact, Prentice recognizes that the system is not purely and simply a binary network, for it ultimately subsumes Mexico’s statistical model. The system is somewhat like a large statistical sample, which easily incorporates local randomness as well as local connections on a cause/effect model. The ultimate arrangement of data is not integral to the system as a system. The system feeds off both percentages and integers, connections and randomness; it simply wants to keep the data-market open, keep alive the desires for more information, and it doesn’t care how the information is used. The system is Quest itself, for all quests must buy in to the information market.

At the Casino Hermann Goering, Slothrop dimly recognizes this fact, which is something like the fact that the House loves winners as much as losers, because having winners keeps the losers in the system: “only destinations are important, attention is to long-term statistics, not individuals: and […] the House always does, of course, keep turning a profit” (p. 243). In the world of Gravity’s Rainbow, all the major players think the games are fixed, and indeed the narrativity of the narrative requires that we think so too. Despite all the contradictions, lost messages, deviations and disappearances, the characters have to keep buying into the information market (which “They” control) just to see if “They” really have worked it all out, caused it all. In the same way, the reader keeps reading (if s/he does keep reading) even if just to know for sure that none of this adds up. In any case, we buy into the narrativity-system of the book, enduring, perhaps coming to enjoy, all its connections and collapses.

This view, however, seems to replace one kind of paranoia with another: even if there is no direct intention behind the connections (or collapses) of events and information, there is still a controlling system feeding off our concern for intentionality. Hardly a liberating proposition.

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What does all this have to do with war? Pynchon both does and does not offer a sort of answer, insofar as the narrator (Enzian?) proposes one only to have the subject of the proposition withdraw it. According to the narrator (Enzian?), the war is really just a cover or alibi for the desires of markets, networks that need to be traversed more and more rapidly, sustained by the circulation of desires that they create (networks model desires and desires model networks):

[The coding, recoding, derecoding of territories] means this War was never political at all, the politics was all theatre, all just to keep the people distracted … secretly it was being dictated by the needs of technology … by a conspiracy between human beings and techniques, by something that needed the energy-burst of war, crying “Money be damned, the very life of [insert name of Nation] is at stake,” but meaning, most likely, dawn is nearly here, I need my night’s blood, my funding, funding, ahh more, more. … The real crises were crises of allocation and priority, not among firms—it was only staged to look that way—but among the different Technologies, Plastics, Electronics, Aircraft, and their needs which are understood only by the ruling elite…. (p. 607)

“Technology’s” response, of course, is extremely problematic, given that capital-T Technology dares us to “Go ahead, capitalize the T on technology, deify it if it’ll make you feel less responsible.” But Technology—whatever it is, ontologically or operationally—is certainly more politically correct than whoever has just represented the War as Technology’s vampiristic economics. This is another moment where Pynchon makes deciding on the truth very difficult; the best one is able to do is to grimly accept both scenarios, pessimistic proposition and guilty response.

What emerges here is a rather concise picture, on the one hand, of self-perpetuating market systems, systems organized around escalating needs of technologies that constantly absorb more human blood, minds and resources, and which certainly benefit from market-enhancing conflicts—and, icing on the cake, deterritorialized regions into which the markets can expand. On the other hand, we have the fact of human agency and complicity, the individual choices of specific somebodies with names and penises. But ultimately these choices cannot be abstracted from the choices conditioned by the market-systems. In the hyperreality in which rockets and penises inscribe each other’s desires, construct each other’s subjectivity, there really can be no distinction between techniques of violence and desire and the acts of violence and desire which refine and escalate the techniques.

And of course, there is finally no elite which understands the needs of techniques, or which can control those needs, or the materials and information which are needed, or the desires of subjects who are inscribed in quests for information. There is simply too much information, too many desires, for any individual or corporation to ever collect, document and connect. Faced with the inevitability of paranoia about what information is missing, what has been lost, what has been doctored or distorted in transmission or by intention, some subjects buy deeper into the quest, or passively mortgage out their second-hand desires. Others, very few of them, evacuate the system altogether, which at this point means evacuating as subjects of the system.

Given that the quest-desires are, in us doubles of the text, organized around a narrative system, we are asked, by other voices or regions of the narrative, to consider what it would mean to absent ourselves as subjects of narrativity. The most Slothrop-like of us will have given up the project of interpretation, even of reading the book at all, long before Slothrop himself dissolves as a subject of the quest-system (by giving over the quest, by dissolving as the object of a quest). But this is very difficult to do, even as our desires to interpret are portrayed by the book as futile or complicitous. We continue, hoping to collect, organize, and connect amidst the raw data.

Slothrop’s answer—dissolving as a “function” of the system—is after all merely to become a body traversed by networks (a “crossroads,” p. 728) rather than to remain a subject animating or being animated within those networks. But even at the moment he becomes a crossroads, the narrator (Slothrop?) flashes back to Slothrop’s stint as a roadworker, “days when in superstition and fright he could make it all fit, seeing clearly in each [bit of preterite waste] an entry in a record, a history: his own, his winter’s, his country’s” (p. 729). As Slothrop dissolves as the subject of narrative, the narrative waxes nostalgic for narrativity—for the piecing together of fragments into history, into story.

This double-bind is concisely expressed in the ravings of Nora Dodson-Truck when she assumes the identity of the Force of Gravity: “I am Gravity, I am That against which the Rocket must struggle, to which the prehistoric wastes submit and are transmuted into the very substance of History” (p. 744). The echo against the Slothrop passage is striking; if gravity is a metaphor for the transmutation of “wastes” into “History,” then gravity is the force of the novel, as well as the force against which it struggles. But what this implies, in its very contradiction, is that Slothrop, in escaping textuality, is all the more the rocket, all the more his allotted narrative function. Struggle and submission, activity and passivity, collapse together back into the larger representational system.

Shortly after his passive identification as a crossroads, Slothrop returns as a perceiving subject, aware of the rainbow’s phallic penetration of the ground from which he has risen, aware of it as “natural.” But how, in what coordinate system of nature against culture, can Slothrop “just feel natural”? In a sense, the novel represents its own metaphoric doubling of rainbow and penis (and rocket) as nature; but isn’t this also part of the narrativity from which Slothrop henceforth dissolves, and isn’t that dissolve the only way out of the narrative/territorial system? Is the narrative willing to lose him if it can have its nostalgia for him in return, its nostalgia for historicizing him? But this is impossible, or so it would seem: the nostalgia, the memories, return Slothrop to the narrative—whether as a character in fantasy, or as the absent subject of fantasy, or just as a voice.

When, at the “Krupp winding,” to the strains of Haydn’s “Kazoo Quartet,” the narrator (Mexico? Nalline Slothrop?) thinks of our hero, he (she? it?) admits that “by now,” Slothrop “has become one plucked albatross. Plucked hell—stripped. Scattered all over the Zone. It’s doubtful if he can ever be ‘found’ again, in the conventional sense of ‘positively identified and detained’” (p. 830). To be found is to be captured in a structure, narrative, systemic or carceral; to be scattered is to disappear as a subject of narrativity, classification and control. It also means to be lost to “The Man” who “has a branch office in each of our brains,” lost to the detection of “each local rep [who] has a cover known as the Ego, and [whose] mission in this world is Bad Shit” (p. 831). But for the “paper bureaucracy” that spawned him—genealogically, ontologically, narratively—Slothrop has always been a sort of nuclear particle whose path is only statistical—in what Enzian calls “the statistics of our being” (p. 421)—who did not exist prior to his/its capture within an “Ego,” a subjectivity, a characterology. The “Bad Shit” continues without him, thank you. Yet the novel, and its Counterforce, still seeks him, speaks his voice, betrays its nostalgia in Pig Bodine’s sentimentality, in the Counterforce’s quest, in Slothrop’s apotheosis as “The Fool.” Can the novel really celebrate his escape, and still want him around as the image of deterritorialized, ego-less naturalness and simplicity, an image more than one critic has in turn elevated into the book’s message?

Such nostalgia is of course, like Squalidozzi’s nostalgia for deterritorialized open spaces, narratively rendered more than dubious in the novel. Pastoral nostalgia is revealed by the larger narrative as merely an effect of colonization/marketing, which uses pastoral nostalgia as a sort of alibi, a diversion, a dream of escape, a simulation. Pökler, for example, is kept in the system precisely by his longing for the Ilse-simulacrum. Neither is the sentimentality briefly offered by the Mexico/Jessica relationship anything more than the delusion, later rejected by Mexico himself, that there are spaces of pure connection distinct from the war machine to which we find ourselves now subjected:

No, we’re not [at peace]. It’s another bit of propaganda. … There’s something still on, don’t call it a “war” if it makes you nervous, maybe the death rate’s gone down a point or two […] but Their enterprise goes on. (p. 731)

Mexico realizes that Jessica’s buying “Their” scenario of peace means the end of their relationship: “The day the rockets stopped falling, it began to end for Roger and Jessica” (p. 732). This shows all the more clearly that their pastoral island in the besieged city was dependent on, was an effect of, the war. Real war is not only good for markets, it is necessary to re-establish the notion of some real difference between “war” and “peace.” In fact the war economy, the information markets, the desires of Technology and technological desires, are inscribed over the entire surface of reality. “Peacetime” merely simulates peace—or rather, codifies peace in order to obscure the system which underlies both peace and war ….

The novel recognizes its own use of Slothrop as a kind of simulation or alibi, as a “Fool” it lets escape in order to prove that its narrativity/control structures are somehow discrete, limited, and distinguishable from “Their” systems. But whether Slothrop wins or loses—nobody in the book decides—makes no difference, because there isn’t any difference; the House keeps operating. Is this to say that Gravity’s Rainbow offers no alternative, no answers at all to the collapse of ones into zeros, causes into effects peace into war, “We” into “They”?

But isn’t that collapse to be desired—when one project of the feedback-control mechanism is to produce and reinforce the distinctions? Pynchon knows he cannot escape the mechanism; after all, the narrativity of his book feeds on it, depends on it to establish its relation to the reader. But it is at the same time a vaguely outlaw narrative, the novelistic equivalent of a kazoo blown at the little Nixon, or “The Man,” in the reader. Perhaps the best of us blow back, even if we do buy into the show to the end.

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Awww, no, that’s just too disappointing, really. What is this but another kind of nostalgia—you know, Gravity’s Rainbow as a kind of Freak House with nameless malcontents saving the day with their plastic protest. A cute way to tie things up, but really …. So what’s left? Passivity’s out of the question, it’s the same as activity these days. Let’s face it, we’re in the system, it is our “real,” our simulation as much as anybody’s. I guess ya just gotta keep going, taking the little pleasures of pop explosions as they come, before they get sucked back in to the system and its territories … keep twisting things up long enough to get the next page, or song, or painting done before it becomes sickening …. Moving on to the next page ….


[1] All references are to the Bantam edition (New York, 1974) and will be cited parenthetically in the text.

[2] I am indebted to D.A. Miller for a number of these ideas.

[3] Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra,” trans. Paul Foss and Paul Patton, in Simulations (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983). Citations will be included parenthetically in the text.

[4] Mexico had thought Gloaming was a Pointsman agent who had let slip information on Slothrop’s surveillance (p. 735); but the Counterforce had sent him as a “lure.”

Originally written in March, 1987

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